I’m not dumb.
You may think I’m dumb because I dress fancy.
You may think I’m dumb because I’m a woman.
Or because I have a Southern accent.
Or because I don’t have a 4.0.
Or because I’m in a sorority.
Or because I’m energetic and love to socialize and be around people.
Or because I’d rather have a deep discussion than read a book.
You may think I’m dumb.
But what does it mean to be dumb?
Is it ignorance? Because, if so, then we are all dumb. Everyone is ignorant of something. Everyone embodies ignorance and perpetuates ignorance. Hate to break that to you if you were unaware…
Is being dumb not knowing everything? But no one knows everything.
Is it being able to “think critically”? Screw that pedagogically abused phrase.
Is being dumb doing badly in school? Einstein got C’s.
Is it being lazy? But we are all lazy, in some form or fashion. Are we all dumb, then?
I’m not ugly.
You may think I’m ugly because I have curly hair.
You may think I’m ugly because I’m not a size zero.
You may think I’m ugly for any number of reasons.
But what is being ugly?
Is it being skinny? But what about all the girls who are “too skinny” and what about the ones with big boobs, etc etc etc?
It’s a perception. It’s always changing.
I’m not a failure.
You may think I’m a failure because I don’t have perfect grades.
You may think I’m a failure because I’m not in the top sorority or because I can’t be involved in everything.
You may think I’m a failure because sometimes I give up and move on and still look back.
But what is failure?
Is it giving up? But how can you find success if you don’t give up on whatever isn’t success?
Is it not being the best? But only one person is the best. So is everyone else a failure?
Is failure a zero-sum game?
You may think any number of these things, but that’s just it: YOU may think.
These are all perceptions.
These are all qualities of which I really have no control.
And that is why it is important to know who you are.
Because you have to separate perceptions from realities.
Perceptions are distorted. They’re hypocritical. They’re backwards and inconsistent and unfair. They’re out of your control.
We spend a lot of our time on things that are out of our control.
I think deep down one of the reasons I attended Duke was because I was tired of people not considering me smart. If I go to Duke, I thought, people will finally think I’m smart. And then I sit amongst students with 2400 SAT scores and 4.0s and published books and successful companies and I hear them tell each other, “She’s SO dumb” or “He’s a total idiot” or “I don’t know how she got in here” and I wonder what people say about me. Do I “deserve” to be here?
Am I smart? Am I smart enough?
I spend a ton of time making myself marketable enough, qualified enough, to attend a school where people, peers, potential employers and professors, will think I am smart. I spend a ton of time chasing after a good perception, something I have little control over.
I spend a ton of time picking out an outfit, doing my hair, wearing makeup, and washing cold water on my face to look like I got enough sleep, all to give off a perception that I have my life together.
I spend a lot of time writing essays filled with intellectual bullshit to give off the perception that I actually care about the assignment the professor has assigned.
I spend a lot of time watching the news so I can give off the perception that I know what’s happening in our world, even if I’m clueless about foreign policy and sometimes haven’t heard of the cities mentioned.
I spend a lot of time doing things to give off a perception. Do I spend as much time doing things for myself? For my own growth? For my own self-worth?
Oftentimes, no. And that’s scary. Because I’m chasing after perceptions that are always changing, never forgiving, unloving and confusing, when I could be chasing after knowing myself, in doing what’s best for myself, in loving myself.
I worry about you who starves herself at lunch because you think being normal weight isn’t pretty.
I worry about you who stays up late memorizing pages from your textbook so that you can sound smart if the professor calls on you.
I worry about you who dabbles in every extracurricular so that you can market yourself as well-rounded.
I worry about you who defines herself as what others define you. Because everyone perceives you a different way. So, then, who are you?
To you, I may be dumb. To you, I may be ugly. To you, I may be a failure.
But the problem is that I don’t even really know what those words mean. Because they’re all social constructs; they’re all perceptions; they’re all inconsistent.
And they’re all what YOU think I am.
It doesn’t matter what other people think of you if you know who you are. Because you are able to sift through the perceptions and cling to the beautiful reality. The beautiful reality that is you.
In a time when many high school seniors are trying to figure out which college to attend, when many college freshmen are just finding out whether they’ve been accepted into certain living groups or not, in a time when many seniors are hoping to get job acceptances, we all really need to figure out who we are. Because if we don’t know that, then how will we sift through all the terrible ways society categorizes us? How will we know that the things people say about us, the places that reject us, the colleges or jobs that don’t think we’re good enough, are all distorted, inaccurate, unfair perceptions. If you take the time to figure yourself out, to know yourself, to love yourself, to respect yourself, then you’ll be able to sift through all the lies of this world. Do something for yourself tonight. Do something that makes you feel you, that helps you be who you really want to be. Write down who you are, tape it to your wall, and live out who you really are. Don’t pretend, don’t hide, don’t be scared when people don’t perceive you correctly. Just be who you know you are.